Strikers v Adelaide

Playoff report by Andrew Demack
Brisbane Strikers v Adelaide United

After a night of high drama, Adelaide United has progressed to the next round of the NSL finals, despite a 4-1 thumping at the hands of the Brisbane Strikers at Perry Park.

The elimination final finished 4-4 on aggregate over the two legs, so Ross Aloisi's away goal tonight was enough to keep Adelaide United's dream first season alive.

Two send-offs and five goals meant the crowd had plenty to cheer and boo, and in terms of value for money, this game was a solid-gold winner.

But not if you were Adelaide United coach John Kosmina. Asked at the after-match press conference what he thought of his team's performance he said: "It was shit. Print that."

Brisbane went into the match with a re-shaped line-up, missing key defenders in Josh McCloughan (injured) and Wayne Heath (suspended), as well as out-for-season Karl Dodd.

But Adelaide were also down a key defender in Kristian Rees.

The first half really gave no hint of the high drama that would unfold later. Brisbane's coach Stuart McLaren had said prior to the game that an early goal would be vital for the Strikers. But the early goal didn't come.

Probably Brisbane's best opportunity early came in the 8th minute. Royce Brownlie controlled a pass on his chest, and skillfully turned and beat Michael Valkanis. Valkanis, the last defender, chased and brought him down. A yellow card result for Valkanis, but as Brisbane skipper Peter Grierson pointed out later, Wayne Heath had been given a red card for a similar offence in the first leg. The free kick came to nothing, as did most of Brisbane's attack in the first half.

The pace of the match was simply frantic. All over the field, Brisbane were pressing hard, and often winning possession. But Adelaide also gave them no time on the ball, and it was difficult for either side to make anything constructive happen.

But about halfway through the half, Brisbane began to get the ball to Brownlie, who was looking ever so dangerous. In the 26th minute, Brownlie managed a shot on the turn that sailed over.

A couple of minutes later it was Louis Brain who made a great run, beating a couple of defenders, committing the next and slipping the pass to either Luke Morley or Brownlie. Unfortunately neither Morley nor Brownlie could work out who the pass was for, and the chance slipped away.

Just past the half hour, and Warren Moon started to make his mark on the game. He got the ball about 30 metres out, wriggled clear of his marker, and hit his shot with his favoured left foot from about 25 metres. It beat Scarsella and crashed into the underside of the bar. Peter Grierson and Brownlie both scrapped for the rebound, but Adelaide scrambled it away for a corner.

Adelaide occasionally threatened on the counter attack. Ross Aloisi had a run and shot in the 42nd minute, and Carl Veart's effort was only just wide a minute later.

But just as half-time approached, the game changed.

Once again it was Warren Moon. Brownlie fed him the ball, and it looked like Adelaide had shut him down. Moon cut back onto his right foot, and his floating shot totally wrong-footed Scarsella who slipped while diving the wrong way. 1-0 at halftime. Was this "game on", or could Adelaide keep things tight in the second half?

Brisbane again stepped up the pace at the start of the second half, winning corner after corner. But Adelaide stood firm, with lots of men behind the ball. Matt McKay began to dominate down the left side of Brisbane's attack.

In an astute switch in the 56th minute, Luciano Trani sent on left-sided Josh Rose, some fresh legs up front to work in tandem with McKay.

And two minutes later the combination brought Brisbane's second goal and really set the match alight. McKay, Moon and Rose worked the ball to Brain, back in the middle of the field. He chipped it into the penalty box for McKay. Scarsella had seen the danger, and jumped with McKay, but ball fell to Rose who volleyed the ball into the empty net.

The crowd (a disappointing 2,970) were going ballistic by this stage. And straight away from the restart, Brisbane broke clear again. The ball came through to Steve Fitzsimmons, who buried his low shot just wide of the post into the side netting.

This miss was one of those huge moments in a crucial game, the sort of event that can take the wind out of a team's sails. In the 65th minute, Adelaide's Ross Aloisi charged forward down the inside-right channel onto a beautiful pass into space. He chipped it over an advancing Higgins, but McLaren was there to clear the ball from the shadows of the cross bar for a corner.

But Adelaide scored anyway. The corner wasn't cleared and the ball dropped to Veart who smashed it home from close range. A vital away goal. Now the Strikers needed five.

It seemed impossible, but yet they poured forward in numbers. Adelaide coach Kosmina admitted later that his team lost their shape totally. They were defending in such numbers by this stage that Brisbane was also able to commit three and four players into the penalty box for crosses.

The pressure kept mounting, but it seemed the goals would not come.

Then in the 80th minute, Strikers Adam Webber and Adelaide's Elias Demourtzidis tangled. Demourtzidis was red carded, probably for use of an elbow.

This substantially removed Adelaide's counter attacking threat, and the Strikers came forward in even greater numbers. A magic individual effort from the talented Louis Brain brought the score to 3-1 in the 82nd minute. His curling shot from the edge of the box was far too good for Scarsella, and the crowd began to believe the impossible was possible.

With three minutes on the clock, a low shot from outside the area came through to Scarsella. He failed to hold it, and the ball trickled free. Peter Grierson was the quickest to react, and he neatly rounded the stranded Scarsella to put away the rebound. 4-1.

In the dying seconds of the match, Grierson got into the box and went down under the ministrations of Aurelio Vidmar. He claimed his shirt had been tugged, but referee Matthew Breeze was unmoved. Grierson made his point to Mr Breeze with considerble vigour. Breeze responded by brandishing a red card.

And that was about it. 4-1 was the final score. A memorable match from every angle.

Stuart McLaren praised his team for a great season and a great effort in this particular match, and was disappointed that they didn't snatch the final goal they needed at the death.

Kosmina - rarely talkative in a press conference after a loss - said Brisbane had deserved to win, and in his opinion deserved to go through to the next round.

"Finals football is all about attitude, and Brisbane had it all over us for attitude tonight," Kosmina said.

Adelaide's traveling fans deserve a mention. A busload traveled 26 hours to Brisbane, and added colour and atmosphere to the occasion. No doubt a full house will be there again when Adelaide walk out onto Hindmarsh Stadium in the next round of the NSL finals series.

Well done Adelaide (and their fans - incl. a coachload doing the return trip), commiserations to the Strikers (and their fans, led by the ever-vocal and inspirational Torcida Banana).